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Heroin Addiction and Its Biological Aspect Report

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Updated: Jun 27th, 2021


Modern society suffers from diverse problems deteriorating the health of the nation, and heroin addiction are one of them. In this regard, the given paper delves into the biological aspects of this problem. The central points of addiction, the ways it appears, how it impacts peoples behaviors, factors that increase vulnerability to drugs, some tendencies in its treatment, and the unsatisfying statistics related to the rise of the problem are revealed in the paper. It consists of the introductory section creating the background for the investigation; a body in which the above-mentioned aspects are discussed; and a conclusion summarizing key findings.


Regarding the shift of priorities towards the cultivation of the improved quality of peoples lives and promotion of the appropriate lifestyle, the health of the nation becomes the central concern for the government and diverse institutions regulating the functioning of society and its evolution. Much effort is devoted to the elimination of social stigmas that might result in the emergence of significant problems in different spheres of human activity. Unfortunately, despite all these attempts, there are still multiple problematic issues that should be solved to ensure that people will enjoy the high quality of their lives. Drug addiction is one of these concerns. The fact is that today a significant part of the population globally suffers from this health issue. Moreover, the rapid rise of technologies stipulated the appearance of new drugs that might have adverse effects on individuals. That is why the topicality of the problem becomes apparent. The given paper is devoted to the investigation of heroin as one of the most widespread drugs, biological aspects of its addiction, and how it impacts individuals, their personality, brain, and behavior.


Starting investigation of the outlined issue, it is critical to determine the scope of the problem and tendencies related to it. Thus, in accordance with the latest statistical data, 21,5 million American citizens experienced substance use disorder (CDC, 2018). Additionally, data related to drug overdose shows that the situation is critical as 63,632 people died in 2016 because of the use of heroin and other drugs (CDC, 2018). In such a way, the epidemic spreads across the state and affects different population groups (CDC, 2018). Specialists investigating the given problematic issue admit the fact that a significant deterioration of the situation in the future will be observed (CDC, 2018). What is even worse, more and more young people become addicted. For instance, about 55% of all adolescents have tried substances at least once in their lives; 15% of them have acquired addiction (CDC, 2018). The scale of the problem proves the necessity of its investigation to improve the comprehension of the concern and its main aspects.

The Way Heroin Affects Individuals

Nevertheless, the high speed of the development of addiction and drug spread is explained by the way it affects individuals and what alterations in moods, behaviors, and functioning of the body it triggers. The fact is that heroin activates specific receptors in the brain (mu-opioid receptors (MORs) (Horvath, Misra, Epner, & Cooper, 2016). Therefore, these are connected with neurotransmitters responsible for pain regulation and hormone release (Horvath et al., 2016). In such a way, using heroin, an individual activates MORs in the reward center of the brain which results in the stimulation of the neurotransmitter of dopamine associated with the feeling of satisfaction and pleasure (Horvath et al., 2016). That is why the consequences of activating these opioid receptors due to the use of externally administered substances such as heroin might be pleasant to an abuser (Horvath et al., 2016). At the same time, the drug triggers unusual behaviors emerging under the impact of dopamine and neurotransmitters. Unfortunately, heroins effect on the brain results in the development of physical and psychological dependence, and in the course of time, the brain signals that it cannot function without the constant income of heroin (Horvath et al., 2016). It means that a person becomes addicted because of the appearance of associations between the use of this substance and feelings that appear, and the physical need for this substance.


As for the pharmacodynamics of the given drug, it also has its unique features. First, heroin might be administered in different ways. One of the most common ways among abusers is an intravenous one. Therefore, heroin quickly affects the body by interacting with blood. At this stage, it becomes rapidly cleared from plasma and continues to interact with the body causing diverse alterations (Gottås, Arnestad, Halvorsen, Bachs, & Høiseth, 2016). Thus, cardiovascular changes are not significant at the first stages (Gottås et al., 2016). Then, individuals using the substance demonstrate altered behaviors under the impact of dopamine that starts to promote its effect on the functioning of a body. The given mechanism is observed in the majority of patients using heroin. Additionally, researchers who delve into the issuing state that increments of 50% in the regular heroin dose do not cause significant harm to a patient and do not trigger the development of side effects (Gottås et al., 2016). At the same time, it remains dangerous because of the high risk of the development of addiction and undesired changes in the body of an individual.

Alterations in Behavior

Another aspect associated with the use of heroin and the development of addiction is a radical alteration in the behaviors of individuals who use this substance. For instance, according to the biological model of the development of addiction and changes associated with it, every person has unique psychology and genetics that might cause the development of dependence and alterations in behaviors (Horvath et al., 2016). Thus, there are several behavioral patterns peculiar to abusers. First, they might feel euphoria and an energy surge soon after the drug intake (Hart & Ksir, 2017). However, these stages are replaced by depressive, and helpless behaviors (Horvath et al., 2016). These differences are explained by the inappropriate functioning of neurotransmitters and their dependence on the admission of heroin. Additionally, an individual might become aggressive because of the lack of the needed dose and signals sent by his/her brain indicating the need for the drug. These alterations are typical for the majority of abusers as the functioning of their nervous system is corrupted and depends on the substance consumed by a person.

Differences in Effects

At the same time, speaking about the biological aspects of addiction, we also admit the fact that heroin might affect individuals in different ways. To a greater extent, it depends on the peculiarities of the body and the genetic aspects of an individual. Despite numerous attempts to understand how heroin impacts the body and all mechanisms of this interaction, scientists still have a vague understanding of why some people become more addicted to the drug while others might ignore it (Marks, 2016). In accordance with the latest research, certain types of genes might be responsible for the appearance of certain hidden inclinations and underlying risk for the acquisition of the addiction (Horvath et al., 2016). For instance, in families with the experience of substance abuse, its members demonstrate a higher risk of becoming addicted (Marks, 2016). At the same time, not all individuals of this group are necessarily doomed to become dependent. In such a way, the mechanisms of the development of addiction in multiple population groups should be investigated to improve our comprehension of its central aspects and the ways it affects people.

Multiple Biological Models of Addiction

Regarding given uncertainties, researchers also suggest diverse biological models of the appearance of heroin addiction. In accordance with these theories the brain structure, peculiarities of the brain chemistry, genetic abnormalities, and behavior might affect the emergence and development of the given health issue. Moreover, given biological models are also introduced to understand addiction vulnerability (Hart & Ksir, 2017). For instance, there are several early reward-centric models united by the fact that they all consider pleasurable aspects of taking drugs the central cause of the problem (Horvath et al., 2016). At the same time, motivation-focused models emphasize a pernicious impact of misdirected motivation on a person, his/her desires, actions, and motifs. In such a way, all models of the appearance of heroin addiction tend to reveal the factors that might trigger the evolution of behaviors resulting in excessive use of heroin and acquisition of dependence. The latter becomes a serious health problem as it promotes the alteration of the brain functions and work of neurotransmitters.

Reward-Centric Model

Nevertheless, as we have already stated above, early reward-centric models assume that from the biological perspective heroin addiction appears because this sort of drug might interfere with brain circuits responsible for generating responses to such natural rewards as sex, food, etc. The fact is that the central component of the circuitry is the nucleus accumbens, which can be found in the ventral striatum, and this very part of the brain receives dopaminergic innervation (Hart & Ksir, 2017). Known as the reward center, it provides heroin with high abusive potential as the given substance might interfere with the functioning of this part of the brain and result in the dopamine release in this structure (Poon, Turpyn, Hansen, Jacangelo, & Chaplin, 2016). In such a way, an individual starts to feel emotions traditionally associated only with natural rewards. In the course of time, a person acquires the dependence as nucleus accumbens is not able to function without the constant income of dopamine. A person feels depressed and wants to express reward-associated feelings again.

Motivation Focus

Another model presupposes that the given addiction is the case of poor or misdirected motivation characterized by the wrong distribution of priorities and disregard of the basic demands of a person (Hart & Ksir, 2017). For instance, an abuse might devote more attention to using heroin instead of caring for his/her close people, work, or education (Hart & Ksir, 2017). One of the possible explanations for the selection of these smaller and insignificant rewards could be suggested using the biological perspective on how specific areas of brain function and process information associated with rewards (Hart & Ksir, 2017). In accordance with the latest findings, highly-developed brain regions responsible for higher-order processes are significant for decision-making related to addictions (Hart & Ksir, 2017). In such a way, people using heroin acquire altered behavioral patterns characterized by the shift of priorities and adherence to abusive actions. Significant alterations in the way the brain functions result in the appearance of new perspectives on motivation and the distribution of goals. That is why a person cannot stop using drugs.

Vulnerability to Addiction

Investigations in the given sphere also show that there are specific features that might result in the appearance and development of vulnerability to drugs and addictive behaviors. One of the models suggesting this idea state that there are primary and secondary motivational neurocircuitries responsible for the emergence of particular responses to stressors and factors impacting an individual (Horvath et al., 2016). In such a way, specific peculiarities in the functioning of this region of the brain might stipulate the rise of addictive behaviors related to drug abuse, food intake, obesity, alcohol use, etc. (Marks, 2016). A secondary motivational neurocircuitry in its turn is involved in motivational decision-making processes and preconditions the appearance of the solution to take or ignore drugs (Horvath et al., 2016). Nevertheless, both secondary and primary motivational neurocircuitry experience the impact of external and internal factors and might precondition engagement in diverse behaviors, actions, and responses. It also means that the way in which these areas processes data precondition the high or low resistance to drug or vulnerability. The given theory could be used to explain a significant difference in the ways how heroin affects multiple individuals (Horvath et al., 2016).


All these factors also precondition the high complexity of treatment. First of all, it is critical to restoring normal brain functioning and behavior to avoid relapses and ensure that an individual will not use drugs for pleasant feelings or poor motivation again. That is why, the combined approach encompassing both behavioral and therapeutic treatments is considered the most efficient nowadays (Bond & Witton, 2017). First, resting on specific medical needs, three types of medications could be used. These are agonists activating opioid receptors (Methadone), partial agonists producing a smaller response in these receptors (Buprenorphine), and antagonists, blocking the receptors (Naltrexone) (Bond & Witton, 2017). Using these medications, health workers might attain improved brain functioning by acting through the same opioid receptors as the addictive drug but in a safer manner (Bond & Witton, 2017). At the same time, behavioral treatment should also be suggested to drug users to attain significant changes in their motivations, actions, and elaborate resistant behaviors. The combination of these two approaches demonstrates the high efficiency and is recommended today as the only method to assist addictive individuals.


Altogether, summarizing these theories, it is possible to state that alterations in some brain regions and cerebral cortex are also followed by impaired decision-making which results in the increased risk of using drugs. There are multiple reasons for the emergence of these alterations; however, these might cultivate vulnerabilities to drugs and the overall deterioration of the situation associated with the drug use. At the same time, from the biological perspective, addiction to heroin is also closely associated with the brains reward system. Using the evolutionary approach, the functioning of the given system is needed to guarantee our survival by repeating actions critical for this process and associating them with pleasurable feelings. Thus, heroin affects the body in a similar way. The substance makes neurotransmitters facilitate the production of dopamine which, in its turn, stipulates the emergence of pleasant feelings and emotions. It means that our brain becomes deceived by the drug as it starts to consider it one of the aspects needed for survival and insists on its constant income. That is why a person acquires a dependence that is hard to overcome because of the alterations in the functioning of the cerebral cortex and some regions in the brain.


Bond, A., & Witton, J. (2017). Perspectives on the pharmacological treatment of heroin addiction. Clinical Medicine Insights: Psychiatry. Web.

CDC. (2018). Web.

Gottås, A., Arnestad, M., Halvorsen, P. S., Bachs, L. C., & Høiseth, G. (2016). Pharmacokinetics of heroin and its metabolites in vitreous humor and blood in a living pig model. Forensic Toxicology, 34(2), 277–285.

Hart, C., & Ksir, C. (2017). Drugs, society, and human behavior. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Horvath, T., Misra, K., Epner, A., & Cooper, G. (2016). Biological causes of addiction. Web.

Marks, D. (2016). Dyshomeostasis, obesity, addiction and chronic stress. Health Psychology Open. Web.

Poon, J., Turpyn, C., Hansen, A., Jacangelo, J., & Chaplin, T. (2016). Adolescent substance use & psychopathology: Interactive effects of cortisol reactivity and emotion regulation. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 40(3), 368-380.

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